I have news which may explain my slovenly habits here on the blogosphere. I have been distracted and somewhat unsettled, as well as pretty wrapped up in myself. Giving, and even opening my eyes to the people around me, has been a challenge.
A few months ago I started thinking about making a change in my job. I’ve been a physician with the same large health system for 18 years. I’ve enjoyed my colleagues, practiced good medicine and, especially, loved my patients. I’ve been paid well and able to work less than full time. I spent time with our kids as they were growing up and, more recently, on volunteer work in the community.
Once I started considering a change, the idea kind of got a hold of me. Louise kept encouraging me to take some time off, maybe write that book I’ve been hinting at (something to do with giving hundred dollar bills to strangers). She showed me spreadsheets and account statements, reassuring me that we would be okay financially. “Life is short; be happy,” she reminded me at least once a day. As a hospice physician, she knows this better than many.
So I did it. I gave my 90-day notice 92 days ago, and Friday was my last day. I feel extraordinarily lucky to be able to make this choice when so many people are struggling to get by and working multiple jobs or unable to find work at all. I have a lot of mixed emotions, ranging from guilt to giddiness to a morbid sense that my life is nearing its end. I worry that my cheapskate-ness will creep on back since I don’t have a paycheck coming in.
It’s been a pretty normal weekend, except I don’t have to set the alarm tomorrow. That feels very strange indeed. In a few days I’m making a trip east to rendezvous with a dear friend I haven’t seen for 25 years. The record-setting heat wave seems to have passed, but it’s going to be more hot and humid than I am really prepared for.
In search of a couple of warm-weather clothing items, this afternoon I headed to Beaumont Village â€“ a part of town I don’t get to much. GazelleÂ is a lovely storeÂ which has beautiful natural fiber clothing, much of which is made in the USA. It’s on the pricey side but they were having an anniversary sale which would help a little.
I forgot about the consignment store down the block and that’s where I stopped first.Â A young woman was helping another customer when I walked in. I couldn’t see her but could hear her patiently explaining the consignment policy andÂ cheerfullyÂ encouraging the woman to look around. I got closer and she turned her attention to me with an indulgent smile. She took my items and hung them in a dressing room, then seemed genuinely pleased when I found something that worked. She was so adorable and so sweet; I couldn’t help but think it was slightly incongruous that she had so many piercings, tattoos and dreadlocks.
Next I headed to Gazelle, where I proceeded to try on a veritable mountain of clothing. Most of it was awful on me, for reasons I don’t need to elaborate on. I decided to go with a tee shirt and a cotton wrap/sweater thing. When I got to the counter, there was the woman from the consignment store. “Oh!” we both said, laughing. I was inexplicably happy to see her again. I mentioned that I had tried on a lot of stuff. “Well,” she said matter-of-factly, “Sometimes you just need to start with a pile.” She got my purchases rung up, gently cajoled me into signing up for the store mailing list, and we said our goodbyes.
I had a hundred in my pocket and was determined to find it a home. Down the block in front of the grocery store I saw a woman and her daughter picking out a bouquet of flowers. I peeked in at them as they went inside and browsed through the greeting cards, then I stepped inside. Their next stop was a selection of cakes and I watched as they discussed the options, smiling and laughing. Whatever the occasion was, it seemed like a happy one.
I had decided to approach them with the gift and was about to make my move when I heard someone say, “Oh! Hi again!” right behind me. It was the woman from the store. Our eyes met and we both laughed in recognition. Then she went over to look at the avocados.
It seemed that a change in plans was in order. I stepped over to the woman and made a comment about seeing her three times. “I’m giving away a gift today and it just feels like I’m meant to give it to you.” She held my gaze, as sweet as ever but a bit puzzled.
I explained a little more about giving gifts in my mother’s honor and, finally, I held out the hundred. “Oh!” she gasped. “That is just the most grand gift ever, but I cannot take it! No! That is just too much!” I encouraged her but was getting nowhere. “A couple of dollars, maybe, but that? No way! I don’t think I am worthy of such a gift!”Â She laughed, turning her head away.
I’m not quite sure how I accomplished it, but eventually I did convince her. She have me a big long hug and told me her name is Alex. She’s an artist and does drawing and painting as well as working in the shops and doing some housecleaning. When I told her I hoped she used the money for something fun, she shook her head just a bit. “Oh, this â€“ this is meant to beÂ spread.”
Alex said I could take her photo and that maybe we could get one of the two of us. I saw someone I knew in the store and she snapped our picture, then disappeared before I could say thank you.
Yes, Louise is right. Life is short. And grand.
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